In a timely warning on Valentine’s Day, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is advising people on the search for love online not to fall for a scammer.
The competition watchdog received 2770 reports of dating and romance scams in 2013, which was a 13.6% increase on 2012 figures.
The amount of money lost also bumped up, rising by nearly $2 million to $25.3 million.
Of those caught in a scam, over 400 people reported that they had lost over $10,000, with around 43% of people who came into contact with dating and romance scams losing money.
This was one of the highest conversion rates of scams reported to the ACCC.
ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard told SmartCompany that the scammers are experts at preying on people’s vulnerabilities, citing one example of a victim losing over $500,000 last year, and another mortgaging their house.
She says 64 victims lost over $100,000 to dating scams last year.
“We all know happy couples who have met online and it is often how people connect these days,” she says.
“People are hoping to fall in love so they are optimistic…but the scammers are very sophisticated in what they do.”
Rickard says they will often research their victim’s interests so on a dating site they appear like a “perfect match”.
“They will befriend them on other sites and spend months or years grooming them for the scam,” she says.
“The victim thinks they have hit the jackpot with love and they will trust in the relationship.”
Rickard says after a period of time, during which the relationship will likely have been taken off the dating site and into emails, webcam contact or phone calls, the scammer will strike.
They could say they need money for an operation, for their child, or for a sick relative, and ask the victim to wire it over as this is a hard method of payment to trace.
“They will have elaborate but realistic stories,” she says.
Rickard says often people don’t want to believe the person is a scammer, even when police or investigators tell them this is the case.
Rickard warns that these scams also pose a risk to personal safety, as the scammers are often connected to international criminal networks.
If people are interested in using an online dating platform, Rickard says to run searches on the people you are communicating with.
“Run a Google image search using any photos provided by someone you met online as they may have been used in various profiles and could be a stolen identity. It’s quick and easy and could save you time, money and heartache.”
The ACCC also advises to keep a tight hold on personal information or photos, especially of a private nature, as this can lead to blackmail of victims.
Romance and dating scams are just one of many the ACCC have warned against in recent times. In 2013 it highlighted that the “Yellow Pages scam” was back in action, with the ACCC finding small businesses were getting caught by scammers sending faxes claiming they were booking ads for a Yellow Pages directory.